October 2010 Archives

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The Butcher's Bill for Texting while Driving

By Michael Fumento

In my LA Times piece "Texters, You'd Be Better off Driving Drunk," Oct. 3, I stated "There are no reliable studies regarding deaths associated with driving and texting." Well, there is now.

Texting behind the wheel accounted for 16,141 deaths between 2002 and 2007, according to Researchers from the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Ft. Worth. One way of putting that in context is that in the last 10 years NHTSA has attributed five (5) deaths to sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas, four in one car. So where are all the newspaper articles and congressional hearings on text messaging?

Hope that last text was important!

To arrive at their number, Fernando A. Wilson and Jim P. Stimpson, writing in the Nov. issue of the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed nationwide data from the Fatality Accident Reporting System and texting records from the Federal Communications Commission and CTIA, a wireless telecom industry group.

They compared the number of deaths there have been versus those that would have occurred if there were no text messaging.

And it's only going to get worse. The average monthly number of text messages was 1 million in 2002, but by 2008 it was 110 million.

Panic over five deaths and complacency over 16,000? Not untypical. Since my first AIDS article in 1987 it's been a common theme of mine that the media, the government, and people in general aren't just irrational about reducing risks but actually tend to view them butt-backwards. The more rare something is, the more attention it gets along with more regulations. The more common something is, the more used to it we are and are willing to accept it.

Cassandra is not just the stuff of Greek legends.

October 28, 2010 11:43 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety

Supreme Court Case May Wipe Out Vaccine Industry

By Michael Fumento

Back when Congress knew how to pass good legislation, in this case in the mid-1980s, it took most cases involving vaccine liability out of the normal court system and put them in a special vaccine court where science and medicine would rule instead of the whims of scientifically and medically ignorant juries.

That's because vaccine companies were going the way of the woolly mammoth, in part because it's just not a very profitable business and in great part because they were awash in over $3.5 billion of lawsuits claiming little more than the post hoc fallacy of "Before the person was vaccinated her or she was fine and since the vaccination he or she became sick." Seriously.

If certain people in black robes make the wrong decision, this guy in a black robe will need to be paid overtime.

Even as it dramatically cut spurious claims, it helped persons who really had suffered from adverse reactions both by cutting litigation costs and by taking them outside of "roulette wheel" justice wherein a case might net a reward of millions while a virtually identical one would be rejected entirely.

But as I write at Forbes.com, this system itself is now endangered by a Supreme Court case in which the plaintiffs are claiming that having lost their case in Vaccine Court that rather than appeal within that system they should be able to try the case in state or federal court. And Congress did allow for some such exceptions.

But no, not this one. It's very clear from the history of what led up to the statute that Congress did not want cases such as these to bypass the system. Why? In part as one court found, it could to a great extent destroy that very system. I provide other arguments. If we lose this system many, many children will not get their vaccines until something else is instituted. And many will die.

October 27, 2010 10:53 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Legal ~ Pharmaceuticals ~ Regulation ~ Trial Lawyers ~ Vaccines

Of mice and men and Christine O'Donnell

By Michael Fumento

A recent exchange between Christine O'Donnell and Bill O'Reilly, with a lack of scientific information on both sides.
O'REILLY: Everybody knows that scientists have enough knowledge to clone a human being if they wanted to.

O'DONNELL: Right.

O'REILLY: But they're not, at least not that we know of. And now they're in the monkey realm. And I don't understand, if that's the possibility that people might be cured, why the objection. Because I never buy the slippery slope....

O'DONNELL: By their own admission these groups admitted that the report that said, "Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we're using this to start cloning humans." We have to...

O'REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won't do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O'DONNELL: They are - they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment.

Fact check:

Presumably O'Donnell was misremembering a 2005 report about growing human brain cells within mice. Not the same as an actual functioning human brain. Yes, it has been demonstrated that some mice are more intelligent than members of Congress but no genetic manipulation was required.

Regarding O'Reilly, as per usual when you see the term "everyone knows" it's a hint of something untrue. It is possible that scientists now have the capability of cloning a human being.

But cloning mice proved fairly easy, sheep much harder, and monkeys much harder yet. Until somebody actually does clone a human being, we won't know whether scientists have enough knowledge. But of course at some point they will have the knowledge and the will clone humans. And it won't be the end of the world. We already have human clones. They're called identical twins.

October 20, 2010 06:38 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Politics

WashPost article on Stephen Colbert's Catholicism

By Michael Fumento

There's an interesting article in the Washington Post about Stephen Colbert's Catholicism, although one does note that he was taught by Jesuits, whose idea of Catholicism is not mainstream. But neither is it atheism.

One thing I say for both Colbert and John Stewart is that agree or disagree with them, they are truly funny. I can't say that for some of the TV and radio show hosts on the right, nor former radio show host Al Franken.

In fact, Franken wasn't even funny on SNL. I was on his show once and he was far from funny there, hardly justifying his $3 million a year contract that helped bring his entire network down. In fact, he said something about my colleague Capt. Joe ("Crazy Joe") in quoting from my article "The New Band of Brothers," that horrified me at the time.

I was writing about my first fight, video of which you can see here though I intentionally blurred it for the sake of protecting the identity of the SEALs, in which Claburn was the only soldier. The others were SEALs. As you can see and hear, it was intense.

I wrote, "As we take fire, Claburn yells: 'Hear them cracking over your head? That’ll get your peter hard, huh?'" To be clear on this, if you hear rounds whistling by it means they're fairly close. But a crackling sound means they're REALLY close. It's only luck that a chunk of lead isn't slamming you in the face. A few weeks later, one of those SEALs was shot right through the mouth and became the first to die in Iraq.

Franken read those words and sneared. But those are the things soldiers say to keep themselves and their buddies sane in what's actually an insane position to voluntarily be in.

Well, now the disparaged Crazy Joe is paralyzed from the waist down. And Al Franken is a senator. And that's how it works.

October 16, 2010 12:01 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Humor

Top scientist calls "scam" Geron human ESC experiment

By Michael Fumento

To much celebration and media play, the first human trial of embryonic stem cells has begun.

With a grand total so far of one patient.

"I don't understand [having] human trials because the animal studies aren't very convincing," David Bennett, a University of Alberta neuroscientist renowned for his experimentation with spinal-cord injuries, told me for my AOL News piece today. "My gut feeling is that it's a scam," he said.

Cats can regrown severed spinal cords to the extent they can walk again without help, though mine prefers to literally lie down and monitor me.

My article explains why the company behind it, Geron, felt compelled to proceed. It comes down to one word: money. In part, they've been spending on this work for 15 years with no human experimentation. Stockholders don't like that.

But there's much more to the Geron "scam."

For example, Geron says it will only treat patients injured in the preceding two weeks. Yet that's when injured spinal cords are spontaneously generating new cells in an effort to heal.

Studies in cats with completely severed spines show that with mere treadmill exercise, as one found, all of them could walk again without assistance, though sadly their mouse-chasing days were behind them.

Even if none of Geron's patients shows any improvement in sensation or mobility, sensitive tests like electromyography or one mercifully abbreviated to SEP can detect increases in cell growth or something called plasticity.

That would give Geron a chance to claim success when there was none.

Meanwhile, there has already been success using adult stem cells to treat human paralysis. But money for these trials has steadily been diverted to, yes, ESC work.

Incidentally, Bennett has 106 citations in MedLine, but nobody else in the media quotes the real experts. Instead, they go to the "old reliables" who just happen to have millions of dollars invested in embryonic stem cell research. Which is why, unfortunately, you read stuff like this here first.

October 14, 2010 06:31 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Stem Cells

My piece on texting while driving in LA Times

By Michael Fumento

"Border collie jill surveying the view from atop the sand dune." Those were the last words of Malibu plastic surgeon Frank Ryan, best known for "reconstructing" reality TV star Heidi Montag. It's not quite up there with "Et tu, Brute?" Yet it seemed important enough for him to text it just before driving off a cliff in August. Jill survived.

The engineer in the 2008 Chatsworth crash texted 25 people to death.

We don't know what the message was in a 2007 accident involving the sender and her four fellow New York high school cheerleaders. But it probably wasn't worth slamming head-on into a truck, killing them all. And the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, in which 25 people died and more than 100 were injured, was officially attributed to the engineer of the Metrolink commuter train being distracted by text messaging.

As I write in my LA Times piece, "Texters, You'd Be Better off Driving Drunk, we don't know what the annual death toll is from texting but all the evidence is that it's a growing killer:

  • It's more dangerous to text and drive than to drink and drive
  • Most people say they do it and the number of text messages just keeps on increasing
  • Texting is 17 times more dangerous than simply talking on a cell phone, and the number of deaths from that was estimated at 2,300 a year before texting caught on.
  • Texting is clearly addictive for many people, and as unfortunately know from personal experience with a loved one addicts will die - and kill - to sustain their habits.

    At the same time I show that ALL the state bans on driving and cell phone usage are essentially worthless because they target the wrong cause of accidents. It's not taking your EYES off the road, but your BRAIN.

    Finally, laws against texting ARE enforceable. This is a real myth-buster piece.

    October 3, 2010 08:04 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety